By Steve Hubrecht

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What seems at first a relatively straightforward request from the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce prompted a longer-than-expected discussion at last week’s Invermere council meeting on the ethics and optics of including third parties in official District of Invermere (DOI) mail outs.

The chamber has asked to include an insert in the district’s 2023 business license renewal letters that Invermere staff will mail to local businesses, and had offered to pay half the postage costs.

Discussion was sparked by Invermere councillor Kayja Becker, who outlined that she wanted “to be careful about setting precedent with other nonprofit groups. I want to make sure it doesn’t become a freebie and all the other nonprofit groups want the same treatment”.

Invermere chief administrative officer (CAO), Andrew Young, replied that a critical element of the chamber’s request that would likely prevent others seeking similar treatment was the chamber’s offer to pay half the mailing costs.

“It’s really not about the money though, and in fact the money could theoretically set a precedent…I’m kind of reluctant to take the money personally,” countered councillor, Gerry Taft, saying there may be other groups “who come up and say ‘Here’s my $150 (to cover half the postage costs), I want my mail out.’ We don’t want it to become see as a sort of ‘pay to play’.”

Invermere mayor, Al Miller, chimed in that in his opinion, the chamber has different relationship with the district than other nonprofit groups, and that the chamber in some respect, functions as a partner to the district. This, Miller opined, makes it reasonable to rang their request.

“The more we talk about it, the more skeptical I become,” said Becker. “I think they (the chamber) should do their own mail out, to keep us (the district) free and clear of any perceived preference.”

Taft seemed to then have a change of heart, noting that “we do give the chamber funding and support them in other ways” and questioned whether this request was really all that different than those examples.

“The important point we need to make clear is that this isn’t something that is open to everybody if they just want to pay half the mailing costs,” added Taft.

In the end, when council members voted on the issue, Becker voted against granting the chamber’s request, while Miller and Taft voted in favour of it. With only three councillors in the room for the vote, this meant council voted two-to-one in favour of the chamber’s request.